The department explores several key research topics of the Astrophysical, Planetary and Earth sciences. The research carried out in the department has a strong observational and experimental perspective, covering almost the whole electromagnetic wave spectrum. Different groups in the department are also involved in international projects for the development of state-of-the art instrumentation.
The basic research carried out in the department is focused in the study of several aspects of the properties of stars and planets, and how during the different stages of stellar evolution stars influence their environment. More specifically the research done in our department covers four main lines:
1) Stars, Planets and Meteorites. The focus of this research line is the study of the formation, structure and early/intermediate evolution of stars and planetary systems. This includes the understanding of our own Sun and the Solar System in a broader context as provided by the discovery of exoplanets. The activity is carried out from observations across all wavelengths that are obtained by developing new instrumentation and interpreted using sophisticated modelling tools.
Experimental Research & Development
2) Stellar Explosions and nucleosynthesis. The goal of this line of research is aimed at studying the late stages of stellar evolution and the phenomena associated to late type stars, white dwarfs, neutron stars as well as black holes. We do this by studying not only the explosions of novae and supernovae per se, from an observational point of view, but also by developing complex simulations codes of the inner workings of the stars (and in particular, of the Sun), which could help in solving the "solar abundance problem" (the mismatch of models that try at once to solve the solar composition and the solar structure as inferred from helioseismology).
3) Astroparticles and Compact Objects. We aim at improving our understanding of compact objects and their surroundings, the origin and whereabouts of cosmic-rays, and the unification of the pulsar zoo. We do theoretical research, using simulations of gap radiation, magnetospheres, magneto-thermal evolution, nebulae and supernovae remnants, as well as observational studies across the whole electromagnetic spectra.
4) Earth Observation. This line of research aims at understanding the different components of the Earth System and their relationship, through the study of data obtained with sensors based on space-age technologies. One of the ultimate aims is to develop technologies and theoretical foundations for the prevention of natural hazards affecting our life on Earth, like tsunamis.
Since the creation of the institute, personnel from the department has been involved in several Space and Ground based experiments. The contribution from our department has been done in several directions. On the one hand, we have developed software solutions using artificial intelligence algorithms that are able to provide Control, Telescope Manager or Dynamic Scheduling solutions (e.g., SQT, OAdM, CTA, ARIEL, CARMENES) and/or research and development (R&D) of instrumentation. As examples of these approaches, the Department is involved in Telescope Manager or scheduling software solutions (e.g., SQT, OAdM, CTA, Ariel, Carmenes). On the other hand, we have involved in R&D on detectors for high-energies for X- and gamma-rays (e.g., eASTROGAM, eXTP), but the list is long and full details can be obtained in this web. Additionally, we have conceived the polarimetric radio occultation measurement concept to be proved with PAZ for detecting and quantifying heavy precipitation events and other de-polarizing atmospheric effects (e.g. cloud ice). And finally, we have been also involved in the mechanical aspect of IRAIT.
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Examples of Synergies among these projects
Apart from the obvious interaction with the Advanced Engineering Unit, with which we have built up our technological portfolio, there are strong ties among the research encompassed by the Department. One such example could be the study of algorithms for scheduling the complex operations of telescopes or arrays. In this area, the groups participating in CTA (thus, high-energy astrophysics) and Carmenes (thus, planetary sciences) have an years long interaction, since the technological solutions found in one area are of impact to the other. In addition to the technological cross-over, the study of our own planet, or of our Sun as star, is of tremendous impact onto the study of exoplanets and exoplanetary systems. For instance, our research into the details of the standard solar models, such as its 1) constituent microphysics: equation of state, nuclear rates, radiative opacities; 2) constituent macrophysics: the physical processes impact the evolution of the Sun and its present-day structure, e.g. dynamical processes induced by rotation, presence of magnetic fields; 3) challenge the hypothesis that the young Sun was chemically homogeneous: the possible interaction of the young Sun with its protoplanetary disk, are of direct impact when looking for Sun-Earth analogs beyond the solar system.
Head of Department: Josep M. Girart